Saturday 30 August 2014

Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite

We've been doing quite well on winning stuff, lately. First that Eat Your Books membership, which I don't think I will ever stop raving about, and then Paul's lottery ticket won £25. And I won a copy of Diana Henry's new book through Ren Behan's site. Which was pretty exciting, since I was planning to buy it anyway (and indeed, I have and gave it to my mother for her birthday).

I first became acquainted with Diana's writing in late 2002, when I was sent a copy of Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons to review for Good Reading. At the time I said her writing was enchanting, and the enchantment has held: only one of her books doesn't have a prominent place on my shelf (The Gastropub book - I gave it to a charity cookbook sale last year). Her dishes combine ingredients in unexpected and alluring ways, drawing on flavours from all over the world, without being inaccessible. And her books always look so beautiful. I'm a shallow creature: pretty counts for quite a lot with me.

A Change of Appetite is about changing your approach to food. Not a diet cookbook, but a book of plant, wholegrain and pulse-focused recipes that tend to be lower or slower carb and contain less animal protein. A book for a sustainable, healthy way of eating (probably... dietary advice seems to change so frequently! but all this advice is well-researched and signposted for further reading).

Anyway, when I get a new cookbook, I like to put it through its paces. We've been eating a lot of dishes from this one! I've enjoyed every dish we've tried so far and would definitely make them all again. The only problem I've had was figuring out portion sizes - some of the recipes say "serves 4 as a main course" and others say "serves 6" without being so blatantly obvious whether that was in the context of a four course supper or a one-bowl meal. As I was serving two, I ended up mix-and-matching to suit our appetites. For example, making a full quantity of gremolata but halving the amounts of other ingredients, or making a full quantity of salad but halving the grain and protein with it, or serving three eggs between us.

The goat's cheese and cherry salad with almond and basil gremolata (p.98 for those playing at home) has already made an appearance on this blog. It was an excellent use for beautifully fresh cherries! The combination of creamy cheese, sweet, juicy fruit and the nutty, herby, garlicky gremolata made an excellent meal-in-a-bowl. I think this one will adapt well to pears or chunks of persimmon later in the year. Maybe even dried figs, when fresh local produce gets more scarce.

For the Israeli chicken with moghrabieh, harissa-griddled peaches and mint (p.136) I just used some regular couscous rather than trying to source wholemeal moghrabieh. Paul had a thing for couscous a few months ago and we ended up with quite a lot of it, so I'm trying to reduce the stockpile before buying new and exciting starches. We don't have a griddle pan so my peaches didn't get those very attractive charred stripes. However, the flavour was excellent. Even with that large quantity of hot English mustard, it only had a mellow mustard flavour.
I adore salade Niçoise, so the salad of smoked anchovies, green beans and egg (p.111) caught my eye. The green beans that I was convinced I had in the fridge turned out to be sugar snap peas, and I added an avocado that needed using. It was all delicious. Paul announced that radishes are one of his favourite things and he didn't know why I didn't put them in all salads. Do use good eggs for this, even if you don't normally worry about free-range or organic produce. Although you should - a good quality egg is one of life's greatest pleasures.

When I tweeted this picture of the Japanese ginger and garlic chicken with smashed cucumber (p.63), Diana responded that my smashed cucumber was insufficiently smashed. So do give it a thorough, stress-releasing whacking. I used red shredded pickled ginger rather than pink because that is what we always seem to have on hand. I made the edamame and sugar snap salad that's a suggested accompaniment, and it was excellent - the miso and ginger dressing is definitely something to keep in mind.
I'd had a very large lunch, hence this uncharacteristically dainty portion
It's a little early in the year for pumpkin, so I used butternut squash for the roast pumpkin, labneh, walnut gremolata and pomegranate (p.254). I used calamondin zest and juice (the calamondin bonsai has a lot of fruit on it at the moment) instead of lemon. This was so delicious! Sweet and savoury, hot and cool, mealy and juicy and creamy and deliciously garlicky. Just wonderful.

I had a bit of trouble getting the dukka to stick to the eggs for the roast tomatoes and lentils with dukka-crumbed eggs (p.164) - which I think is mostly down to taking shortcuts and not crushing it finely enough. The flavours were absolutely wonderful though, so just sprinkling the dukka on top worked fine. I used basil instead of coriander leaves (the basil that we bought at the beginning of summer is doing well), and cherry tomatoes instead of roma. The dish ended up reminiscent of a fairly refined ful medames; very satisfying.

I was very happy with the shawarma chicken with warm chickpea puree and sumac onions (p.217), although when I reheated it, the chickpea puree split and oozed quite a lot of oil. I'm not sure if that was due to the quantity of oil or the fact that I used rapeseed instead of olive oil. Next time I think I'd make the puree more like my usual hummus recipe, with more tahini, less oil and a good slosh of boiling water to bring it together. We had it with some roasted peppers and aubergines. An excellent use for the sumac that I bought and then couldn't remember why.

Sadly, I suspect that a lot of people will be put off the Japanese rice bowl (p.43) because of the raw fish. Which is a shame because it really is delicious. Again, I used red pickled ginger instead of pink, and I used white sesame seeds instead of black. It's so pretty and such a vibrant tasting bowl of food. It's a very good introduction to raw fish if you are squeamish.

While I was working my way through these recipes, I stuck pretty closely to them. As far as these things go with me. But with the radicchio and red onions on white bean puree (p.288), I couldn't help myself. Diana suggests a lentil, roast grape and red chicory salad with it, which sounded so good, but we didn't need that much food. The notion of roast grapes stuck with me though, so I tossed a bunch of red grapes in the pan with the radicchio and red onions. She also mentions that "if you choose the right plate to serve it on, it even looks rather painterly", which made me think of the reds and whites of Carpaccio paintings and of my other favourite red and white food: good cured pork. I laid some slices of proscuitto in silky folds on top. So my dish looks much messier than the original, but it tasted absolutely superb. And I added a sprig of fresh rosemary, finely chopped, to the bean puree, in memory of the rosemary and tuna skewers on white bean puree, which were all the rage about 15 years ago in Sydney.

Wednesday 27 August 2014

Showstopping nutella, fig and fennel blumenbrot

I decided not to do this week's Great British Bakeoff technical bake. It was ciabatta - which was a quite a challenge and I am sure it was delicious, but not really the sort of thing to win a stunned silence from Paul's colleagues. If I am going to bake things that I am not going to eat myself, I want plaudits, dammit. The rye roll signature bake was also uninspiring. I decided on a showstopping blue cheese, fig, fennel and hazelnut couronne centrepiece, with a little rye in the dough.

Unfortunately I got home on Saturday evening to discover that Paul had eaten nearly all of my Stilton, and my long weekend plans didn't include going to the shops. Also, Lynne from A Greedy Piglet posted this clever nutella bread, twisted into a lovely flower shape. I decided to stick with the fig, fennel and hazelnut, but to take it into an unambiguously sweet direction with nutella and some extra chopped chocolate. Because those other elements add quite a lot of bulk, I only did two layers of dough, so it doesn't look quite as layered and flowery. But it is still pretty!

Then, also unfortunately, it was pouring with rain yesterday morning, and Paul couldn't balance an umbrella and a bag of bread at the same time. So I took it to my dance class so I a) got to see it appreciated and, b) got to taste it. Even though it isn't that rich a dough, it still ends up with a buttery, eggy, briochey taste, and the nuggets of dark chocolate and faint aniseed breath of the fennel keep it from being too sweet.
Nutella, fig and fennel blumenbrot (serves 8-12)


250g strong white bread flour
Pinch salt
1tsp fennel seeds, toasted and crushed finely
7g dried yeast
1tsp soft light brown sugar
50g butter, softened
100ml milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten


100g Nutella (or generic chocolate hazelnut spread of your choice...)
120g soft dried figs, chopped into small pieces
2tsp plain flour
50g dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
65g chopped hazelnuts

To glaze

1 egg, beaten
1tsp runny honey

Put the flour into a large mixing bowl with a pinch of salt on one side of the bowl. Heat the milk for about 15 seconds in the microwave, until just warm, and add the sugar, fennel and yeast and allow to sit for 10 minutes while the yeast activates. Add the butter, milk mixture and egg to the flour and mix. Continue to mix until all the flour is incorporated and you have a soft, shaggy dough.

Knead either with a dough hook or by hand (if by hand, dust the surface with a bit more flour), working through the messy stage until the dough starts to feel smooth and silky. Put it into a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave to rise until doubled in size. If your kitchen is as cold as mine was on Monday it'll take more than an hour.

While the dough is rising, combine the figs, plain flour, chopped chocolate and hazelnuts. Stir well so everything is dusted in flour.

Line a baking tray with baking parchment or silicone paper.

Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured surface. Cut in half and return one half to the bowl. Roll out the dough into a 10" circle. Lift the circle onto the lined baking tray (it's hard to move when it's all filled and shaped). Warm the nutella for a few seconds in the microwave so it's a bit melty (or stick the jar in a pot of hot water on the stove if you are a microwave eschewer). Spread the nutella over the circle of dough, leaving a 1" border. Press the fig and hazelnut mixture onto it, aiming for an even distribution of fig and chocolate morsels. Roll out the other half of the dough to the same size and cover the first layer, pressing down around the edge to seal.
If you like things really tidy, you can cut around the edge at this point to make it a perfect circle. I don't like things that tidy, and I was using a pizza tray to keep things in line.

Put a glass or ramekin in the middle of your bread - this is to discourage you from cutting too far into the middle. Make 16 evenly spaced cuts from the edge of the ramekin to the edge of the dough circle - the easiest way is to go from 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock, then bisect those cuts, then bisect those cuts.
Gently lift a wedge and give it a couple of anticlockwise twists. Lift the wedge to the right of that and give it a couple of clockwise twists. Then go around the bread twisting it in alternating directions. Press the ends of each opposing pair together, vertically, so you have 8 petals that Georgia O'Keeffe would recognise and be proud of.
Put the tray in a clean plastic bag, or cover with a clean damp tea towel and leave to prove for 30-45mins, or until the dough springs back if you poke it gently with your finger.
A veritable labial kaleidoscope
Pre-heat the oven to 200C.

Brush with beaten egg. Bake the bread for 25-35 minutes, or until risen and golden-brown. Brush lightly with honey to glaze - if you do it as soon as the bread comes out of the oven it will melt on and spread nicely. Set aside to cool on a wire rack. Allow to cool before serving, but best eaten fresh.

Monday 25 August 2014

Summer truffles

30g truffle
A few weeks back, Paul decided that he wanted a truffle. July is not the best time to have that sort of a craving, since the prized black and white truffles are out of season, but we were able to get a cheaper, fresh summer truffle to play with.
Thinly sliced, ready to be put on pizza
 This type of truffle has a slightly crisp texture and just a subtle waft of truffle aroma - a promise of how much better these dishes would be with autumn truffles.

We made pizzas, with good smoked speck, buffalo mozzarella and mushrooms. We put a couple of slices of the truffle under the cheese, and then some more on top just a minute before they came out of the Weber. The slices on top of the cheese had lost most of their aroma, but the slices underneath had imparted some of their earthiness to the mozzarella.
We also made Fonduta Piemontese - a sort of Italian answer to fondue. Cubes of taleggio are soaked in milk until most of it is absorbed, then it is melted in a double boiler with eggs until it is all thick and creamy. I cooked it all a little more than I think is authentic because of Paul's aversion to snotty eggs. Covered with truffle shavings and scooped up on toast it was divinely rich and luxurious - but definitely better kept for a day when the weather is cold and exercise has been taken.

Friday 22 August 2014

Elizabeth David's Glace à l'abricot - BSFIC random recipes

Last month I won the most brilliant prize - a lifetime premium membership to Eat Your Books, which is a fantastic cookbook index site. Once you've tagged all the cookbooks (and some blogs and magazines) you own on your "shelf", you can use it to search for recipes without flicking through pages, bookmark things you want to make and make notes on the success (or otherwise) and variations you made to the recipe. I've been finding it extremely useful - especially in the recent cherry glut. I would never have thought to look in Tamasin Day-Lewis's books for a Bakewell recipe, but it was her frangipane filling I ended up using. It's brilliant. I love getting more use out of the cookbooks I have acquired over the years.

As I won this amazing prize through Kavey Eats, it seemed fitting that I should try to use it for this month's Bloggers Scream for Ice Cream challenge. Even more fittingly, this month Kavey has teamed up with Dom from Belleau Kitchen to do a combined BSFIC/Random Recipe challenge.

In order to generate my random ice cream recipe, I did a search in my indexed recipes for ice cream. Which produced 402 results. Then I went to a random number generator which picked #312. This identified a flaw in my system. My search had identified every recipe on my shelf featuring the words "Ice" and "cream". Recipe 312 was Elizabeth David's iced ham mousse... which didn't really fit the bill, or sound in any way appealing. So 311 was her Apricot Ice, Glace à l'abricot, from French Provincial Cooking.

This is a classic custard-based ice cream, with a bit of whipped cream folded through just before freezing. It's not churned, it's just given a couple of stirs while freezing, which suits me. Mrs David's recipes are not for those who like explicit instructions. "Make a custard with 1/2 pint of thin cream or, for the sake of economy, milk". So I heated the cream with a split vanilla pod, poured it onto the egg yolks, which I'd beaten with caster sugar and then returned it to the pan.
Egg yolks beaten with caster sugar
It worked well, although I would have preferred a more pronounced apricot flavour - maybe the addition of half a dozen dried apricot halves to the puree, or perhaps a ripple of apricot jam. I also think that freezers are probably more efficient now than they were in 1960 - my ice cream froze very hard and needed a good 15 minutes to be scoopable, and even then it wasn't a tidy scoop. I also suspect that I was supposed to drain the apricots before pureeing them, instead of including the poaching syrup which obviously added a lot of extra liquid. But as I hardly ever make proper custard-based ice cream, I was still proud of this one.


Wednesday 20 August 2014

Stir-fried marrow in black bean sauce

It's that time of year where many gardeners find themselves in possession of overgrown courgettes that were hiding behind leaves. I'm not growing courgettes or marrows, but I did find myself with half a marrow after using the other half to make piccalilli. It occurred to me that some pork and prawn dumpling filling (leftover from Noodle!) would be a very good stuffing, and that a nice home made black bean sauce would perk up the bland vegetable.

Of course, I googled and discovered that Danny had mentioned just such a dish five years ago. And it turned out there wasn't enough dumpling filling to stuff it properly anyway. So I turned it into a stirfry. I had it just on its own, because I didn't have to share, but some rice would be good to stretch it.

Stir-fried marrow with pork, prawn and black bean sauce (serves 2-ish with rice)

Vegetable oil for frying
Fist-sized ball of leftover dumpling filling OR 100g pork mince
1 clove garlic, sliced
thumb-sized piece of ginger, grated
1 small red chilli, sliced
1tsp sugar
1tbs salted black beans
1/2 marrow, peeled, de-seeded and chopped into bite-size chunks
1 small red pepper, de-seeded and chopped into bite-size chunks
1tsp cornflour
50ml shaoxing rice wine
100ml chicken stock

First get everything prepared - mash the black beans roughly with the sugar and put in a small bowl with the chilli, ginger and garlic, put the marrow and pepper in another bowl, and mix the cornflour and shaoxing to a slurry.

Heat a wok or heavy-based saute pan over a high heat, then add a good splash of oil. When the oil shimmers, add the dumpling filling or pork mince, browning it well and breaking up the pieces. Add the garlic and black bean mixture. When the garlic begins to brown, add the vegetables. It's a stir-fry, but don't stir it absolutely constantly - give it all time in contact with the hot pan to develop some semblance of wok hei.

When the vegetables are starting to take a bit of colour and are tender-crisp, add the cornflour slurry and the chicken stock and stir until the sauce thickens and everything is well-coated in it.

Monday 18 August 2014

Turkey B'stilla - Arabian Nights with British Turkey

Orange and herb salad with pomegranate dressing
Since attending the British Turkey dinner back in March I can't actually say our turkey consumption has increased - we were already pretty regular eaters of it - but I have been more appreciative of the range of flavours it can take on. When I saw that British Turkey and Red Tractor were running a competition to develop turkey recipes with an Arabian Nights theme I realised that the flavours of North Africa and the Middle East would work extremely well with turkey and decided to have a go.

The challenge was to use British turkey and two Red Tractor branded non-meat products in a recipe inspired by the Arabian Nights. The prize, if I win, is £200 in supermarket vouchers and an invitation to the British Turkey Awards.

A few years ago I went to a very interesting talk at the National Portrait Gallery by Marina Warner on the origin of the stories known as One thousand and one nights, so I know that the origins of Shahrazad's stories are largely Persian, but I couldn't let go of the idea of a Moroccan-inspired B'stilla. Or bisteeya, pastilla or bastilla, depending on your transliteration of choice. With its icing sugar-dusted top it looks unexpected for a savoury dish but for me it is the quintessential dish of Orientalist fantasy.

 B'stilla is traditionally made with young pigeon or chicken, boiled in aromatics, then the meat is stripped from the bones and the eggs are scrambled in the stock before being layered with the meat and almonds and wrapped in warqa pastry. With the way turkey takes on flavours, turkey thigh mince is a perfect alternative. Using mince instead of meat on the bone also allows streamlining the recipe, so it isn't quite as elaborate a preparation. You end up with lots of different flavours and textures, with creamy, savoury, spiced, herb-flecked turkey and eggs, then the sweet and crunchy almonds, all wrapped in layers of delicious buttery filo pastry and that enticing dusting of icing sugar. The accompanying herb salad brings more flavours and textures to the party.

As well as the turkey thigh mince, I used British butter and some local rapeseed oil. The rapeseed oil was particularly interesting to me. I've heard people touting it as a British-grown alternative to olive oil, but I've also heard people complaining about the taste. This cold-pressed oil, with a bright golden colour and delicious, almost peanutty flavour, had none of the rumoured bitter or rancid aftertaste. And it has a higher smoke point than olive oil, so it was the perfect thing for me to use both for frying the b'stilla filling and for dressing the accompanying orange and herb salad.

The ingredients list looks really long and off-putting, but instead of the individual ground spices you could use a bought ras el hanout blend to make life easier. You can also make it ahead of time, either making the filling the day before, or making the whole pie in the morning and baking it just before serving time. Even so, this really is a dish for weekends and celebrations, rather than something to knock up for supper after work. The flavours are rich, complex and delicious, and no one could ever accuse this turkey of being dry.     
Lining the dish with layers of filo pastry and British butter
The herbed and spiced turkey and egg filling
The almond and sugar layer - the sugar tempers the spices rather than making it taste sweet
Turkey B'stilla with Orange and Herb Salad (serves 4)

2tbs cold pressed British rapeseed oil
1 small onion, finely diced
500g British turkey thigh mince
2tsp freshly grated ginger
1/2tsp ground mace
1/2tsp ground nutmeg
1/4tsp ground cloves
1tsp ground white pepper
1 1/2tsp ground cinnamon
6 cardamom pods, seeds only
150ml well-flavoured chicken stock
Good pinch saffron
4 eggs
Juice of 1 lemon
1 small preserved lemon, skin only, finely shredded
Handful chopped flatleaf parsley (about half a supermarket bunch)
Handful chopped coriander (about half a supermarket bunch)
salt, if required
100g blanched sliced almonds
2tbs light brown sugar
75g British butter, melted
6 sheets filo pastry, thawed if frozen
1tsp icing sugar

Orange and Herb salad

1tbs pomegranate molasses
1tsp dijon mustard
1tbs cold pressed rapeseed oil
2 oranges, peeled and cut into neat suprême
Arils from 1/2 a pomegranate
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
Handful flatleaf parsley leaves (the other half of the bunch)
Handful coriander leaves (the other half of the bunch)
Handful mint leaves
Handful dill sprigs
2 spring onions, sliced

Steep the saffron in the chicken stock. Heat the rapeseed oil in a saute pan, then add the onion and cook over a medium high heat until golden. Add the turkey mince and brown well, breaking it up with a spoon. When the mince is almost cooked, add the grated ginger and spices (instead of the dried spices you could substitute 2tbs of bought ras el hanout spice blend). Mix in the saffrony chicken stock - there shouldn't be a lot of sauce. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Beat the eggs in the lemon juice and add to the turkey mixture. Stir in the preserved lemon rind and chopped herbs. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens and becomes a bit curdy, but not dry. Taste for seasoning and add a little extra salt if necessary. The spicing might seem a bit aggressive, but it mellows during the baking. At this point you can refrigerate the mixture over night.

Spread the almonds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake at 160C, watching like a hawk, until the nuts are brown. It takes longer than you think it will and then turns in a flash. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the sugar. Allow to cool.

Take a heavy-based 10" round shallow casserole dish and line the bottom with a circle of baking parchment and brush lightly with melted butter. With 5 of the sheets of filo, line the dish so that the sheets overlap, and about half of each overlaps the edge of the dish, brushing each layer with butter as you go. I laid mine out in a star shape to make sure I had good coverage. If you work fast you don't need to worry so much about the pastry drying out, but do keep a damp tea-towel to hand to cover it in case you get distracted. When the 5 sheets have been laid in the tin, heap up the turkey filling in the middle. Press it down a little but don't pack it to the edges of the dish, you need to leave some room for tucking in the pastry. Sprinkle the toasted almonds and sugar evenly over the turkey mixture.

Tuck the overlapped pastry over and around the filling, brushing each sheet with butter again as you go. Try to give the pie a round shape by patting and tucking the edges. The top will look pretty messy, so cut the last sheet of filo in half and tuck that smoothly over the top, to give a tidy finish. Brush with the remaining melted butter.

Bake in a preheated 180C oven for 45 - 55 minutes or until dark golden brown and crisp. Dust liberally with sifted icing sugar before serving, cut into wedges, with the herb salad.
Ready to serve
For the salad, whisk the mustard, pomegranate molasses and rapeseed oil in a salad bowl. Add the other ingredients and toss gently to coat in the dressing.
 I was reimbursed for the cost of the turkey and Red Tractor ingredients by British Turkey.

Saturday 16 August 2014

Life is just a bowl of cherries

 For the last few years, we've rented a cherry tree. Unfortunately, until this year we hadn't had the chance to get down to pick the cherries - the first year was a nightmare of a harvest and not worth schlepping to Kent for, and last year I was in Australia. This year, we also missed the opportunity to go down when the blossoms were out. We're not very good at this cherry rental business.

This summer, we were determined.

We collected some fairly shallow boxes (you can't pack them too deep or they bruise) and set off. And then got stuck in traffic. We stopped for a pub lunch and a badly-needed loo-break, so we arrived a little later than planned. I'd been imagining something that looked like this, which made the reality faintly disappointing. On the other hand, it meant we could reach the top of the tree without ladders and two of us could pick the fruit without too much difficulty.

It was hot (Paul's choice of long sleeves was baffling to me) and quite hard work, so we cherry-picked (boom boom) only the best of the fruit. There was a lot of it.
Unfortunately I could NOT get a decent picture of our haul. My camera freaks out with red sometimes, regardless of the background colour. But in the end we had just shy of 16kgs of fruit. 35lb. That's a lot of cherries.

Having been tortured at high school with Seamus Heaney's Blackberry Picking, I knew I couldn't take a leisurely approach:

We hoarded the fresh berries in the byre.
But when the bath was filled we found a fur,
A rat-grey fungus, glutting on our cache.
The juice was stinking too. Once off the bush
The fruit fermented, the sweet flesh would turn sour.
I always felt like crying. It wasn't fair
That all the lovely canfuls smelt of rot.
Each year I hoped they'd keep, knew they would not. 
I spent the next four days elbow-deep in cherries, nails stained, fingers wrinkled, racing the rat-grey fungus. And I won, by dint of all the preserving methods I could muster.

Cherry wine, cherries in alcohol, cherries in syrup, cherry pies, cherry cakes, glacé cherries, pickled cherries, frozen cherries, fresh cherries in salad, fresh cherries handed out to friends, fresh cherries eaten by the handful, cherry mincemeat for Christmas, savoury cherry jam and sweet cherry jam.
Diana Henry's Cerise au vinaigre - a sweet sour pickled cherry, perfect with smoked duck, saucisson and rillettes
The red-wine soaked cherries from Diana Henry's Guignolet, served with fudgy yoghurt cream
Cherry pie - made from this filling recipe. Froze three pies, baked one for Paul to take to work
Upside down chocolate cherry cake - sadly this was wasted when I couldn't get anyone to take it
Cherry and cinnamon jam
Cherry Bakewell with boozy cherries and cherry jam - ate one, froze one
Boozy cherry choc chip ice cream - haven't tasted this yet
Diana Henry's cherry and goats cheese salad with almond and basil gremolata
So now all we have to do is eat a mountain of cherry preserves before next summer and another harvest.
Great Wall of cherry preserves

Thursday 14 August 2014

Häagen-Dazs - real or nothing

One of the things that dismays Paul about me is my love for ice cream. He doesn't see the point and doesn't get why I love it so. He does have a point, of course: it increasingly looks like sugar is seriously damaging to your health. So, despite the beautiful weather, I have been turning down very kind offers of ice cream samples and I didn't take part in last month's BSFIC challenge.

Eventually and inevitably, I got an offer too good to refuse. The chance to attend a lunch, cooked by a Masterchef winner, to launch the Häagen-Dazs summer campaign. As I don't actually watch Masterchef, I had no idea who Natalie Coleman was, but it sounded impressive. Plus the event was being co-hosted by Great British Chefs and I bloody love that site.

When I arrived, a little late and a little discombobulated, I was shown to a roof terrace and plied with booze. A good start. They were serving cocktails designed to fit in with the ice cream flavours, so I started with a Rossini, which went down very easily and followed it up with a salted caramel martini. Then we were invited down to watch Natalie demonstrate how to make a classic vanilla custard-based ice cream. The emphasis for this Häagen-Dazs campaign is real ice cream, showcasing the natural ingredients they use, hence showing us how to make it from scratch.
 Nothing ground-breaking, although she did share a useful tip about gently rolling vanilla pods on a board to help release the seeds.
"nestergen leaf" = nasturtium - and I don't know who got the crab, but it sounded good!
More drinks, and then it was lunch time. To match the real ice cream were dishes featuring real eggs, milk, cream and butter. So delicious but good lord it was all very rich. To the point where it didn't really leave me in a great frame of mind or palate for tasting ice cream.
We started with duck egg yolks, confited in olive oil in the oven (no sous vide gadgetry!), served with green and white asparagus, hollandaise, nasturtium leaves and a generous shower of white truffle shavings.
Then more richness, in the form of meltingly tender, crackling-topped slow-cooked pork belly on a pillow of smooth, buttery cauliflower puree. A fat, sweet scallop was separated from the pork by a very welcome tangle of green apple and sharply dressed pea shoots. It was a bit too salty for my taste, and, although it was beautifully cooked and presented, I think I would have enjoyed it more had it not come just after confit duck egg and hollandaise. I envied Kerstin Rodgers/Ms Marmite Lover her vegetarian option - the pumpkin ravioli looked superb.
The vegetarian option
Natalie's ice cream was simply presented, with bowls and jugs of accompaniments for self-service. I garnished mine with a handful of roasted macadamia nuts and a pool of salted caramel sauce.
Then the serious fun began. Nadège Le Pennec, from the Häagen-Dazs R&D team, handed around a bowl of sugar and told us to put a bit in our mouths, while blocking our noses. I noted the teensiest bit of eye-rolling around the circle as we all did as we were told, and all thought "Sugar. Big deal". Then Nadège's magic trick as we unblocked our noses and discovered that the sugar was heavily scented with cinnamon. Completely undetectable just on the tastebuds, but revealed as soon as we let go of our noses.
Next came a blind tasting of four different vanilla ice creams. Two were pretty dreadful, with no aroma, an icy, milky texture and a taste that vaguely skirted around vanilla without actually hitting it. The other two were dense and creamy, a bit eggy, with enough aroma to survive freezing and a true vanilla flavour. We were split fairly equally between those two, when we were asked to guess which one was the Häagen-Dazs. Those of us who were wrong ( couldn't feel too bad about that though, because the one we picked... was Natalie's home-made. Pretty compelling, I thought.

The event drew to a close with opportunities to taste all the flavours, which I was in no state to appreciate, and we were sent home with little wicker hampers of the ingredients for real ice cream and Natalie's recipe.

I found it all interesting, because I didn't know anything about Häagen-Dazs prior to this. I remember when they launched in Australia in the late 1990s, and being vaguely aware of a "But they aren't even Danish, how can you trust them?" controversy. Which I don't entirely understand now, because they never claimed to be Danish - they are quite proud of their Brooklyn roots. So what with one thing and another, I'd never paid any attention at all to the brand. Now, well, it may have been lots of alcohol before lunch and the aroma of freshly grated truffle, but I totally drank the Kool-aid.

Which meant that when I saw this quote from Matt O'Connor of the Licktators in our local magazine, I bristled: 
Optima magazine No. 550 August 2nd 2014
"Milk protein powder, coconut oil, and a lot of air is what you are buying with Häagen-Dazs and the like. I'm amazed they can get away with it. Still, that's the Food Standards Agency for you," he says grimly.

So, as a little comparison, here is a screenshot of the Häagen-Dazs ingredients list for their vanilla ice cream, as sold on Ocado.

Fresh cream, condensed skimmed milk, sugar, egg yolk and natural vanilla.

And here is a screenshot of the Licktator's vanilla ice cream:

Wow. He really showed the big boys what real ice cream was all about, hey?...

So, to get rid of the taste of sour grapes, here is a recipe for one of the cocktails I particularly enjoyed. To be drunk with real ice cream, or by itself.

Salted Caramel Martini

35ml Butterscotch Schnapps
35ml Vanilla Vodka
15m Dry White Vermouth

Shake over ice and serve in a cocktail glass rimmed with salt

Edited to add: Daniel Young, of Young and Foodish, asked the Licktators on Twitter to comment on this comparison, and they stated that they were misquoted by Optima, that they were commenting about "Fake 99" ice cream in general.


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